VALRICO — For those who missed the Florida State Fair and Strawberry Festival, or maybe can't shake the craving for funnel cake, no worries. The big tent is up, signaling the arrival of St. Stephen Catholic Church's 13th annual Spring Jubilee in Valrico.
The event, made possible by about 300 volunteers, runs from Thursday to March 23 and promises to keep the fair theme going with fried treats, more than 30 midway rides and four days of family-friendly fun.
This year's stomach flipping thrill attractions include the Zipper and the Orbiter. Tampa's own Luna Blue Band will perform live. And with dozens of food booths, guests can dine on everything from barbecue to seafood.
Guests can even attend Mass under the big tent.
The Tampa Bay Times spoke to Father Bob Schneider, who is in his first year of service at St. Stephen, about the event.
This is your first Spring Jubilee. Did you attend similar carnivals at your former churches? What are you looking forward to most?
Years ago I worked at Nativity, where they have Novemberfest, but no, I've never experienced anything of this magnitude. I think the event really brings people together. It's a fundraiser for the school but it is just as much a community builder. For me it is a chance to get to know more people in the community, to meet and greet.
Will you brave any rides?
I will go and have a look. We'll see what's possible.
Any favorite carnival foods?
I normally try to eat healthy but I guess you can't beat a good corn dog.
Proceeds will go to support St. Stephen Catholic School. How important is the event in terms of supporting the school? Why is the school important to St. Stephen?
It is part of our yearly budget and we use some of the money to keep the school financially healthy. As a parish we are very dedicated to Catholic education. It is important that every young person in the parish have the opportunity to be educated in their Catholic faith.
What are the benefits of a Catholic education?
We offer a holistic education in the context of the Catholic faith. Whether history or science, we offer a Catholic perspective on all study subjects, not just religious topics.
How has the emergence of charter schools impacted Catholic education?
Parents have all kinds of options when it comes to a child's education and we understand that. It has somewhat effected enrollment but even students who attend charter schools attend our religious programs at the school.
In your time so far at St. Stephen, what is the biggest challenge you have faced? What is your greatest reward?
The biggest challenge has been just getting to know all the people. But really it is such a dynamic active group, it hasn't been too hard. By biggest reward has been seeing Mass attendance continue to be strong here, to see people wanting to be a part of worship and our parish community even growing a little.